Why do salespeople fail? It’s a question that managers as well as their salespeople have asked for decades. And one contributing factor that keeps this question alive and in the forefront of our minds is that there has not been one universally accepted answer. Whether the salesperson’s failure is being blamed on the salesperson, on the manager, or on a collaborative effort, the reasons often remain subjective, even elusive, and as such, history is bound to repeat itself. The timeless struggle for a solution continues to plague our thinking, while the collateral damage due to this fallout dominates the manager’s time.
Whether your team consists of 1,000 salespeople or just one, the simple fact stands: Avalanches roll downhill. It starts from the top. The following are six principles managers need to incorporate in order to build a world-class sales team.
Strategy 1: Take Full Responsibility for Your Salespeople
Become 100 percent accountable for the success and failure of your sales team. While there may be many reasons why a salesperson fails, it is the reluctance on the manager’s side to take on this full accountability that is the leading cause of a salesperson’s failure. You can be burdened with excuses or empowered by the ability to make better choices. Either way you’re accountable for the excuses used as to why your salespeople fail, just like you are accountable for your sales team. Here are just a handful of excuses that managers have used to justify why their salespeople fail:
- I inherited my sales team. I didn’t hire these people.
- We don’t have time for a sales training and coaching program.
- That’s normal in my industry. Turnover is just something we have to deal with.
- We can’t offer competitive packages like other companies can. It’s straight commission. No salary or benefits. We do our best to play the hand we’re dealt.
- The salespeople are really independent contractors. So if they need help, they should get help on their own.
- If they fail they really weren’t cut out for this position.
- They needed help? Then they should have come to us. We would have helped them. That’s their responsibility. How can I read their minds if they’re having a problem?
- It’s hard to find good sales talent out there now. Our market is super competitive and this is what I have to work with.
Since you are evaluated or compensated by how successful your team is, tolerating these excuses will come at a heavy price. Ultimately you will be the one responsible for breathing life into these excuses or pioneering innovative solutions in order to squash them from existence. Once you take full accountability for yourself as well as each person on your sales team, you are able to empower others to be fully accountable for themselves.
The following five strategies are ones any manager can begin to implement in order to build a team of sales champions. Incorporating these into your management style, strategy, and approach is sure to reduce turnover and increase the retention of star players, prevent a new salesperson or a star veteran from becoming an underperformer, and maximize the performance and production of your team.
For salespeople who feel these strategies only apply to management, consider this: The more awareness you have around the role you and your manager play in your overall success and failure, the more you can educate and help your manager best support and manage you around these areas that you may feel you have less control over.
Strategy # 2: Develop Your Skills as a Coach
Without actually working with your own executive sales coach or participating in a coach training program to develop your coaching skills and competencies, all you are doing is changing your title rather than your essence, your thinking, and your skills. The coaching model is based on the belief that the question is the answer. Coaching isn’t about giving information. The coach is responsible for people finding the answers themselves and developing their own problem-solving skills. And being able to self-generate solutions and solve problems on your own is the premise of coaching; a competency that, like learning any new discipline, sport, or hobby needs to be learned and developed over time.
Strategy # 3: Consistent Weekly Coaching
While some managers tell me they don’t always have the time to meet with their team, think about the things that are taking you away from coaching and meeting with your team in the first place. I guarantee many of the issues and the problems you’re dealing with are actually a result of not coaching and connecting with your team on an individual and more frequent basis. If you have a team of five or 10 salespeople, it’s much easier to manage your time and your schedule to accommodate weekly, one-to-one meetings. It’s when you have a larger team that makes it more of a challenge strictly due to time constraints. While group or team coaching is also an option to fill in some developmental gaps, there is still no substitute to providing individualized attention. I suggest a minimum of two individualized coaching sessions per month for each member of your team, understanding that weekly one-to-one coaching sessions would be ideal. Frequency and consistency is key, just like going to the gym. The more time you spend at the gym and the better you eat, the healthier you become. The same rule applies to maintaining and building the health of your career, your leadership skills, and your sales team.
Strategy #4: Develop a 30-Day, New-Hire, Strong-Start Orientation Program
Regardless of your product or sales cycle, every manager needs to be able to confidently assess whether someone is going to make it within their first 30 days on the job. If you feel you’re unable to do so, it’s because you haven’t taken the time to outline what the measurables and milestones are that you expect every new hire to hit within the first four weeks. What do you expect from new hires within the first 30 days? What do you want them to learn or achieve each day? Whether they make it doesn’t need to rest solely on whether they are selling. There are other factors you can use to gauge if you made the right hire, such as their commitment, their sales acumen, assimilation of product and industry knowledge, preselling activities, and their overall attitude. Are they following through with any preliminary work that needs to be completed before they’re ready to sell on their own? Do they have a routine and a selling system that’s ready to be executed? Are they doing the basics, that is, showing up to work on time, following through with any preliminary training, putting together their target list, going through role-plays with you, and so on? Finally, are they being evaluated to ensure they’ve assimilated the industry or product information and selling acumen that’s needed to succeed?
Strategy #5; Develop More Diligent Hiring Procedures
I’ve always heard managers report, “With all the interviewing you can do, you really can’t gauge someone’s work ethic until they’re on the job.” While this may be true to some degree, I’ve seen many companies institute additional steps into their hiring process to help better gauge the person’s work ethic before they’re actually hired. For example, have the new candidate go out and ride with the manager for a half day or with a salesperson you trust to get a good sense of who they are and for the candidate to get a feel for what their day-to-day responsibilities would look like. Another technique that helps reduce failure is to conduct skill-practice scenarios and role-playing exercises throughout the interview process. This gives you a better sense of how they think, how creative and flexible they are, and how effective they would be when in front of your customers and prospects. Finally, the number of interviews plays a huge role in reducing failure among salespeople. The more interviews you conduct, the more interviews the candidate has with various people within your organization, the less of a chance you will make the wrong hiring decision.
Strategy #6: Develop and Implement a Tactical Turnaround Strategy
Without having the awareness and discipline to develop and execute a turnaround strategy when needed, the costs to every company are great. Companies that lack a clearly defined strategy to handle underperformers tend to overcompensate in other areas for the weakness this void creates. They are more apt to accept turnover and a certain level of attrition as a natural course of doing business and building a team. There are a myriad of reasons why a salesperson fails and why a turnaround strategy is a vital component needed to ensure their long-term success. Managers need to be acutely aware and sensitive to the fact that some turnaround situations will result in termination or the salesperson deciding to leave on his own accord. Regardless of the underlying reason why a salesperson isn’t performing in relation to desired expectations, a four-week turnaround program will help you identify what’s really going on and provide you with the framework to quickly determine how you can turn around an underperformer in less than 30 days or whether you and your company are better off without them.
Keith Rosen is an executive sales coach, speaker, and best-selling author of many books, including Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions. He was named one of the five most respected and influential executive coaches in the country by Inc. magazine and Fast Company. He can be contacted at 516-771-1444, firstname.lastname@example.org, or his Web site.